Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The story of this book reminds me of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves."  If there is one good thing about this story, it's this valuable lesson that I learnt from the tragic ending of  two of the main characters, Hannah and Emmeline. There is no doubt that the English writing is good, and this book is just about that.  I'm not impressed by the plot, story, or the characters.  They actually bored me.  Instead of being a page turner like the book cover claims, the pages kept me closing the book and putting it aside.

May be if I hadn't watched "Upstairs Downstairs",  "Downton Abbey" or "The Titanic", I would find this novel more interesting.  I felt like I was reading someone painstakingly describe and write about what I had already seen with my own eyes, someone who tried very hard in putting those fancy images in English texts. This book is more of a show off of the author's use of the English language, than the telling of a compelling, or even convincing story.  The English writing is riveting, not the story.

I never got "The Game" that the book spent so many pages talking about.  This so called "Game" was often played by the aristocratic children of the House at Riverton.  From what the book showed me, the life of those aristocratic people in that era couldn't be any borer. How can that be?  That was a fascinating time, a fascinating era,  how could life be this boring in high society?   May be it's just in the House at Riverton.

To me, the book is like a painting of a grand estate in the early 20th century that illustrates lots of details of the landscape and yet it's an empty mansion that has nobody inside.  The story's narrator, the 90+ years old Grace, who was a young house maid who served the family and the young ladies, failed to retain my attention.  It's just not convincing for Grace to tell me the stories of her mistresses in such great intimate details on events when she was not even there to witness. Even Grace herself admitted that she wasn't there but yet, when she was telling Hannah's story with her lover, her husband, her outings and her experience and feelings, Grace was able to tell in great details, not just the place, the time but the inner thoughts and feelings of Hannah and Emmeline...  Grace was often telling stories of her masters and mistresses that nobody could possibly know except the masters and mistresses themselves. Grace could easily confuse me into believing that it was not Grace who was the narrator, but at some point, Hannah took over to become the narrator of the story.

I don't understand why this book was loved by so many.  I admire the writing skills, but not the story telling ability of the author.  The story has little passion, little suspense, but pretty boring and unimpressive characters.  It's a shame, the story could have been made really exciting and exotic.

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